If a report from Helene St. James of the Detroit Free Press is true, USA Hockey general manager David Poile didn’t quite nail his choices for Olympic goaltenders, but two out of three ain’t bad.
According to St. James, Jonathan Quick of the Los Angeles Kings and Ryan Miller of the Buffalo Sabres will be heading to Sochi in February. That’s not a surprise, but the third goaltender in her report is a bit of a head-scratcher—it’s Jimmy Howard of the Detroit Red Wings.
The official announcement will come Wednesday following the Winter Classic in Ann Arbor, Mich.
Quick and Miller are the presumptive No. 1 and 2 goaltenders for Team USA, respectively, and both bring solid credentials. Quick has been dominant the past two postseasons and won a Stanley Cup and Conn Smythe Trophy in 2012. Miller has been superb for the Sabres this season and was the MVP of the tournament in 2010, when the U.S. team lost in overtime of the gold-medal game to Canada.
That’s a solid one-two punch, but the third goaltender on this team looks more like a third (winged) wheel.
Howard has missed time with hand and knee injuries this season—he is expected to return from his knee issue Monday in Nashville—but has been subpar when healthy. He is 6-8-7 with a 2.65 goals-against average and .910 save percentage. His GAA and save percentage rank him 28th and 29th, respectively, in those categories.
Two American goaltenders—Ben Bishop of the Tampa Bay Lightning and Cory Schneider of the New Jersey Devils—have been very good this season but reportedly won’t be representing their country.
Bishop was a bit of a dark-horse candidate. He is having an outstanding season (20-5-3, 1.89/.935), but it is just his first as a full-time starter in the NHL. His lack of experience and poor showing in the 2013 World Championships (3-2-0, 2.83/.876) may have been reasons Poile went in a different direction.
But if Bishop didn’t have a lengthy-enough resume, surely Schneider would have fit the bill better than Howard.
Schneider’s record (5-8-5) is a bit cringe-worthy, but that has more to do with the Devils scoring just 30 goals in his 18 starts. He has posted a 2.13/.914 split this season, numbers that are more impressive than what Howard has delivered.
If Team USA wants to give a young goaltender a taste of the Olympics, Howard (29) is older than Bishop (27) and Schneider (28). If the idea behind the selection of a No. 3 goaltender was to give a younger goaltender experience for the next Olympics, bringing Bishop or Schneider makes more sense than Howard.
What likely gave Howard the edge over Bishop and Schneider is his track record, especially in the playoffs.
Howard has played in 42 career playoff games and advanced to the second round of the postseason three times. Bishop has yet to appear in a playoff game while Schneider has made only seven career postseason starts. Every game at the Olympics is a big game, and Howard has far more experience in those contests than his counterparts.
Howard also had consecutive outstanding seasons in 2011-12 and 2012-13, going 56-30-11 with a 2.13/.921 split in 99 games. Poile clearly believes that is more reflective of Howard's abilities than the first two-plus months of this season.
The decision to take Howard won’t matter unless Quick and Miller go down with injuries in Sochi. If this is the most dubious decision Poile makes in regard to his roster, Team USA will still have an outstanding chance at winning Olympic gold.